Where did the time go?

You guys, I am having a bit of a moment here. Yesterday was my California-versary. I arrived here for the first time on September 9, 2001. That was 20 years ago.


It really doesn’t feel that long. I have almost lived here for as long as I lived in Germany. That seems so crazy to me. Time perception is such a weird thing.

Here’s a reminder for those who haven’t been around my corner of the Internet for that long and don’t know my background story; I came to the US as an exchange student, and what was supposed to be a 6-month visit ended up being the biggest life-changing decision of my life.

Yes, you’re also correct to notice that I arrived two days before 9/11, and I am so glad I did because I don’t think my exchange semester would have happened if my flight had been booked to arrive after 9/11 (the academic quarter didn’t start until the beginning of October and some other students from my university never made it over here). 

While studying abroad had been my dream for a long time, I distinctly remember wondering upon my arrival what the heck I had been thinking to come here all by myself. But, as we all know, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is always scary at first (and boy, was I pushing myself out of my comfort zone), but so very necessary for growth.

Sometimes I think it would have been “easier” to just stay in one place and not “rock the boat” with a move abroad (but who wants “easy”, amirite?). I think it was also a little less common back then than it is now for people to study or work abroad, and the fact that I followed my heart (and a guy attached to it, ha!) wasn’t something that people readily accepted.

I was a very shy and timid kid and nobody – least of all me – would have thought that I would ever up and move to another country. Not even temporarily, much less indefinitely. I’ve written about my story about how I ended up in the US before (you can read about it here) and I still have days where it’s utterly mind-boggling to me that I made that leap and that I am living my life abroad.

Moving away and putting an ocean between you and the people you care about is hard, so hard. You will quickly learn who stays in touch or actually follows through to come and visit and who fades away. Some people deal with this better than others, is what I am saying (and be ready to be surprised). But in retrospect, I feel like this move was less of a choice and more of an inevitability. It was an important opportunity for me to spread my wings. I gained (much needed) self-confidence and it taught me that I am much more resilient and independent than I’d have ever given myself credit for. I know now that I can do hard things.

In the beginning, when things are new and unfamiliar, you compare a lot. This is different in Germany and that is better in Germany. People keep asking you how things are different, or what’s better (or worse) where you live now. Over time, you stop doing the comparison game. Every place has good and bad things, you embrace the new culture and customs, and you might even take a more critical look at your home country. It’s all part of the process. Occasionally, you might feel smug about the fact that you are so lucky that you get to pick the best things from both worlds (three Christmas holidays, anyone?). But it’s still true that you can take the girl out of Germany, but you can’t take the German out of this girl.

After all this time here, it’s like I am still stuck somewhere in the middle. It becomes hard to answer the question of where your home is. For a while, that was very odd and confusing. It felt “wrong” to feel at home in two places. While I still call Germany home when I am here, I also call California home when I am in Germany. I know many immigrants and expats understand this feeling. The truth is, we’re always going to have our hearts split between two worlds now. And I think overall, that’s not a bad thing. Even when it’s hard sometimes, it’s also incredibly beautiful.

Seems like I chose the name for this blog wisely when I started writing here in 2004 because the phrase turned out to be fitting for someone with a heart split between two places.

  1. Congratulations – 20 years… that’s crazy, isn’t it.
    So happy, you found your place ion the in between :)

    1. Thanks friend, I know you can relate.

  2. Happy Cali-verssary! I was born in the Bay Area, and although my parents moved when I was three and I have no relatives there, a part of me considers Cali to be home.

    1. Thank you. I didn’t know you were born in the Bay Area. Neat. Have you been back here?

  3. San, The in between is yours, it really is! Or maybe ours, this blog post really resonates with me. While part of me hopes that I won’t forever feel like I live between two worlds, there is also beauty to it, like you said, and my life would be so much less rich if I’d stayed in Germany.

    1. Thank you, Eva. Seems like you can relate. How long have you been here?

      1. It has been 15 years and they went quickly :)

  4. Happy California-versary!!! I think it is an amazing act of bravery to move across the world at such a young age! One of my big regrets in life is that I did not study abroad. I think there is so much to be gained by travel and also by living in a very different place. I have never been to Germany, but my husband has (his grandmother was of German descent) and the photos always seem so beautiful to me. California I have been to, and it is very beautiful – but in a very different way! Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Thanks Nicole. It had always been my dream to live abroad, although I never thought it would actually happen (I had applied for an exchange semester in highschool and bailed last minute. I think I wasn’t ready. I am glad I was a little braver in College ;)). You should definitely visit Germany sometime. It’s beautiful.

  5. That’s incredible that you arrived here two days before 9/11. You’re definitely correct that it likely wouldn’t have been an option – what an incredibly fortuitous adventure for you! I actually had just moved to California for college right before 9/11, too. I love that your blog name has been able to serve as a place to recognize and appreciate those moments of being in-between for so long, too. It still seems absolutely perfect!

    1. Oh, I didn’t know you were in California for College and moved here right before 9/11. Where did you go to College?
      And thank you, I didn’t know how fitting the blog name would end up being… but I love it.

  6. So crazy that you came here so close to 9/11. What a weird introduction to life in the US as you moved here at such a pivotal and memorable moment for us Americans. That would be such a huge life change to move to a different country. I am glad you’ve found a place ‘in the in between.’ I know the past 18 months have been especially difficult ones to be away from family since travel has been impossible or felt risky!

    I, too, studied abroad and found it be very life-changing as well. I became so much more independent through that experience. I studied in Australia during the spring semester of 2002. I was booking my flights right after 9/11 happened and my parents REALLY did not want me to go. They weren’t thrilled about it in the first place as it was not very common back then. I think I am the only person in either side of my family (which is very big!) to have studied abroad. But I am glad I stuck to my guns and went because I don’t think I would be the same person I am today if I hadn’t studied abroad!

    The concept of ‘home’ is so fluid for some of us. I remember the first time I referred to Minneapolis as home when talking to my parents and they were like, ‘that’s not home!’ But they of course have adjusted and accepted that their kids have found a home away from where we grew up.

    1. I am so glad you also had the experience to study abroad. It’s such a life-changing event (even if you don’t end up moving there haha!). I am so happy for you that you stuck to your plan and made the time abroad happen…. 2001/2002 was a strange time do do it.

  7. Wow, wow, wow! What an amazing story! I love what you said about your heart being in two places.

    1. Thank you Kristen. I appreciate the kind words. It’s been a journey :)

  8. Wow, I didn’t realize you moved to the US 2 days before 9/11.

    I can understand. I did study abroad but only a semester in Heidelberg, but it was the best experience of my life because I pushed myself beyond that familiar comfort zone. That’s when true growth happens, just like you said. And having two homes… that must be very difficult, but it’s beautiful you can recognize your favorite things from both worlds, even though culturally they are so vastly different.

    Always love your take on things, San. <3 Sending so much love and happy 20 years to you + US!

    1. Right, you went to Heidelberg for a semester. I totally agree – it really makes one grow and pushes yourself out of the comfort zone. So glad you had this experience!! <3

  9. Oh wow, congrats on 20 years! I love how fitting your blog name ended up being too. I’m not an expat, but I can definitely see how it would feel like your heart resides in two places, which is more than okay – you have enough love for all of it!

    I imagine it was pretty scary to get here and then 9/11 happen though. However, that’s amazing you’ve really grown and become a “new” more confident version of yourself!


  10. Happy anniversary. Wow 20 years is such a long time. Even though I have only lived one year abroad I still sometimes think a piece of my heart is left in another part of the world. So having your heart split in two – in this beautiful way – is definitely something I can image. And all those stars probably alighted perfectly for you to make it to the US two days prior of 9/11. I cam back from the states the 9/7 and it felt so weird.

  11. I *really* need to go back and read some of your earlier posts. I’m such a newbie around here… I knew you’d been here for a while – but not 20 years! And I think I missed the “exchange student” part of the story too, not to mention the “followed a guy” piece?

    You really took a leap, coming here alone and during University! I really admire that willingness to put yourself out there, take risks, and embrace what comes. I like to think I’d do the same in the same situation but, well, one never knows. :)

  12. OMG! That long? Well, I do understand the feeling because I grew up and lived on Cape Cod until I was 20. And now I have lived in New Hampshire for 40 years. with a brief stint in Florida. Almost always, I have felt like the Cape was home and I still do. And yet, New Hampshire is where my family is now so this is also home. I guess in many ways, there are two of me.

  13. 20 years! Amazing, and congratulations! And how fortunate you got here right before 9/11. It must have been so hard to experience that stateside.

    I love reading your insights on belonging to two countries! I am surprised to hear the comparison game goes away, but that makes sense after so much time!

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